By: Phil Weller
"Now Autumn's fire burns slowly along the woods and day by day the dead leaves fall and melt." William Allingham
With The Dead are no super group. This is no get-rich-quick scheme, gimmick or marketing ploy. As Lee Dorrian says himself, this is just the sound of three blokes making “the most uncompromising, oppressive and most crushing record we possibly could. That was the only rule from the start.”
Indeed, the nature of the band does cry ‘super group’ – with the ex-Cathedral/Napalm Death bellower fronting the filthiest rhythm section in existence with Mark Greening (drums) and Tim Bagshaw (on guitars and bass), who need no introduction on the hallowed pages of The Sludgelord. And yes, this is an Avengers fashioned ensemble of well-known and deeply admired characters within the doom scene, but their birth was not forced through any form of heroic gesture. It just made sense.
“I think it’s a bit of a ridiculous term myself but people will call us that. That’s fine. We’re just a bunch of underground kids really, it’s not like any of us have had any major success. None of us have been in fucking Gun N’ Roses, we’ve just sold a few records across the world over the last 20/30 years. If you want to be successful then you wouldn’t have written a record as heavy as this.”
With regards to the band’s beginnings, Dorrian explains that he was never intended to be a member as the Ramesses twosome first got together to make some noise.
“Obviously Tim and Mark go back a long way, and they’ve been playing in Ramesses together for years. Then Mark had the whole drama with Electric Wizard a year and a half ago and found himself without a band. So they just talked about having a jam and seeing if they came up with anything, it was as loose as that at first. “Tim contacted me to see that, if they did get something together, would I be interested in releasing the stuff through Rise Above. I’ve always been a fan of their work so of course I was interested and asked to be kept updated. There was no intention of me being involved in the band. “Eventually they sent over a few demo tracks and I instantly thought that it sounded great; it was unpretentious, heavy and raw, with big fuck off riffs.”
But things didn’t play out like a drearily fucked up version of some fairy-tale. A year ago the band found themselves demoing tracks in
Dorset, but as much as Lee “loved
the tracks,” he felt that “the
recordings didn’t do them any justice.”
He illustrates: “So instead of panicking to get something out there, step back for six months, come back to it with fresh ears and start again from scratch. By this point I’d already agreed to do vocals. So during that time we had chance for the songs to sink in a bit more. Once we had the focal point of writing the heaviest songs we could everything became a lot easier. There are few times in your career when you can be that channelled into an idea and all be on the same page. We were just totally focused in making the most brutal record we could. There wasn’t any messing around with experimentalism.
“This was the easiest record I’ve ever done to be honest. I did all the vocals in about two hours; we just kept the first takes. In Cathedral I’d spend weeks and weeks and weeks on just one line so that it just looked right on paper. I had no social life, I’d torture myself. It was so liberating to get away from that and sort of do something off the wall.”
As dismissive as he is of the super group label slapped across this band by excited fans and media types, he is aware of the resulting factors of this collaboration. It’s a branding akin to the ‘as seen on TV’ found on many books and albums, as retailers scramble for a unique selling point. In the band’s situation however, the desire is for the music to speak for itself and not depend on notoriety like a new born baby suckling its mother.
Since founding Rise Above Records however, his perspective and understanding of what can so often be a cut throat industry has marked his actions.
“I make no bones about it; it’s very easy having myself, Mark and Tim together in a band. It’s made things more instantly recognisable and marketable. Things are gonna be easier for us due to that fact we’re recognised musicians. People might say that we got together because it’s easy for us to sell a lot of records, I can see why people would say these things, but what are we supposed to do, not do it because we were worried about what people might think?
“[Because of that] people are obviously gonna have expectations of us three being together. There’s a big burden of responsibility that comes with that. That’s why I didn’t want to rush anything after hearing those initial demos. Consequences are something I think about with the label every day. One false move and that could be the label done for, so I have to be very careful. I don’t know if that’s a business perspective or just a caring perspective. I wouldn’t be in this band if I thought the music was just average – what would be the point?”
After reconvening six months after those first sessions together, the band’s chemistry exploded. What they now have – and what we, the public can now gleefully drown within – is by far one of the most gut-wrenching albums of 2015. It belies a choking sense of gravity, the sheer weight of each song as unrelenting as it is personalised by the three lauded souls who have breathed life into these compositions.
“It’s fucking killer,” he gushes. “Tim and Mark are just awesome really. I think on this record they’ve really excelled themselves. The production is very raw and abrasive and I think it captures them in the best way; this is the best they’ve ever sounded. There’s a fine line between making the record sounding garagey and too polished – to have it intense and heavy while still audible.
“Hopefully it just sounds like a genuine record. We wanted to put as much as ourselves and relate to it as personally as we could. You don't have to be original to make good music. Just put your soul into it. If it’s not pretentious it’s gonna sound fresh because there’s only one you. I mean, on the grand scale of our existence as people rock n’ roll is still relatively new. Too many people are trying to reinvent the wheel, but you just have to be yourself. As long as it sounds like you.”
As a short but damnably sour body of work – from ‘The Cross’’ towering cacophonous grit, which sounds like a nastier Uncle Acid at times, to the slow motion earthquake of ‘I Am Your Virus,’ capped by a dominant performance from Dorrian – this self-titled offering is hard to fault. It breathes honesty and integrity, reflecting the hearts and minds behind the music.
The question on everybody’s lips right now, and quite naturally too, is what happens next?
“There’s no big masterplan for this band. It’s a major relief to have the music finished and out there but with everything else we’re just taking things as they come. Hopefully we’ll do some shows next year and another record. I don’t want this to be another studio project that doesn’t do anything. Personally I think this record is too good to just leave it and there’s more stuff that we can do. I’d like to think that this isn’t a one off.
Obviously in a live scenario Tim’s gonna be playing guitar so we’ll have to find a bassist, maybe a second guitarist. So there’s a lot to think about but we’re not ruling anything out.”
And with that, The Sludgelord can hear the echoic clamour of thousands of prayers hoping that this band is here to stay, and not just a flash in the pan, not just an adrenalised and inspired meeting of much revered minds. Amen!!